When I began to understand the new focus of the college admissions process – I knew exactly where to look for a guide on how to help students develop the right mindset. You see about 2000 or so years ago lived a whole group of awesome people. They cared very much about leading lives that strove for a better world - that always did the right thing. They wrote down a "best-of" of their thoughts – into six short chapters. And it is from there that we can find the great mindsets of The Ethics of the Fathers, a veritable whos whos of the smartest, kindest, world-changing-est, rabbis who envisioned a similar way of living, long before there was a Harvard. You see these rabbis, for a thousand years debated and questioned the very nature of empathy, emotions, diversity, and a sense of place. Except they didn’t call it a more than qualified applicant – they called it being a mensch – a good person. And their guidance is just as good today as it was then - and even better for rocking the college application.
Be Academically Capable
“Who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it says,
“I have acquired understanding from all my teachers.”
While this clearly includes grades, test scores, and making sure you take difficult classes (eg: physics versus physical education), admission officers are looking to see if you’ve cultivated a mentality of learning. Are you open minded and approach all arguments with logic and constructive criticism? Do you sometimes have conflicting opinions and spend your time weighing the different options? These ways of thinking create a positive critical mentality, and helps students to apply knowledge with experience to produce wisdom.
“Love thy fellow creatures”
Kindness goes beyond simple volunteering. Kindness isn’t about you. Kindness is 100% about the other person. They want to see that you “love your neighbor”, that you literally do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Kindness should be an action that you should spread, that you have ready a random act of kindness whenever the situation might call for it.
"In a place where there are no humans, strive to be a human."
A person who goes beyond simple volunteering, to actively engage and improve in their community and their environment in some positive way. This means being mindful of your surroundings, and having the courage to stand up for what is right, to do something when no one else is, to admit when you are wrong. It’s also daily – in the small things. Don’t litter, clean up after yourself, use your damn phone headphones in public. Understanding that each engagement with your community should be a positive interaction.
Gratitude and a Sense of Responsibility
“It is not your responsibility to complete the work, but neither are you free from it”
A student who is mindful of his or her place in time and space. How the parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents had to struggle and sacrifice, in order that the student (and your child) can live the life you lead today. As well as the world to come – your children, your grandchildren – you should be a light unto the nations. Feel accountable to those who look to you. Recognize that what you are able to contribute to society is uniquely yours, and you feel confident about your place in it.
How Admissions Sees You
Admission officers don’t necessarily see (or understand) this information in the same way you do. So, on your app, it’s key to make sure the real statements you make - about your personality, ethics, empathy, and abilities - come out right, with the right evidence.
Here’s what admission officers are really looking for:
You can very clearly see that the bulk of where they are evaluating you is coming after grades and test scores!
Now compare this against an actual application. Here are all of the areas of the application (including Common App) laid over the Mensch Mindset:
Everything that you need for the application can come from embracing these mindsets. And this forces you to go about creating your application in your own unique way. So in general, don't think about your college prep in terms of the categories of the application. Instead, focus on these Mindsets. If you work through your high school experience in this way, you will more easily be able to copy and paste what you’ve done, into the admission categories, for a winning application, and a winning life!